Many colleges and universities have embraced solar power to help achieve their sustainability goals, climate action plans and renewable energy targets. This movement has been driven primarily by student demand, rising awareness among institutions that fiscal and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand, and the understanding that addressing climate change is a critical part of an educational institution’s mission.
Energy generation is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions for most institutions, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Along with decreasing their impact on climate change, colleges can save money and insulate themselves from ever-increasing utility rates by implementing conservation measures and choosing renewable sources of energy.
The EPA’s Green Power Partnership Program provides impartial support to organizations of all sizes that are interested in transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources. Their recent webinar describes many creative ways that colleges and universities have used to finance their solar energy projects. Here are seven proven methods:
- Student fees: Many institutions have “green” funds that students contribute to, either voluntarily or mandatorily, as part of their student fees. Though these are typically small contributions (often under $10), when collected across the student body, they can be used to fund large projects or as matching funds when applying for grants.
- Revolving green funds: Based on the idea that “being green saves green,” the cost savings that result from a sustainable initiative are deposited back into the fund, which can support future projects. These funds are also a professional development opportunity for students, who can submit funding proposals for sustainable initiatives or serve as board members who oversee the fund.
- Collaborative procurement: In some states, educational facilities can aggregate their energy demand (“load”) and their resources to either purchase renewable energy or subsidize the construction of energy generation infrastructure (e.g., a solar or wind farm) at a lower rate than would have been possible individually.
- Federal and state incentives: There are a variety of federal and state incentives that subsidize renewable energy projects for public and educational institutions. Sometimes taking the form of low- or zero-interest loans, these incentives can be highly competitive, are subject to funding availability, and are not guaranteed in the future—so it behooves any school to explore the options now while they are still available.
- Endowments: Both public and private institutions have invested in the development of clean energy generation systems, both on- and off-campus. In addition, universities’ and other sponsors’ investments help secure loans to finance renewable energy projects.
- Alumni donations: Alumni can make gifts to their alma mater in the form of renewable energy infrastructure, or they may be able to earmark their donations towards alignment with the institution’s sustainability goals and educational mission.
- Class gifts: Not to underestimate the generosity of graduating seniors, the senior classes of several colleges across the country have raised enough money for the purchase of solar arrays, leaving a legacy of sustainability for their alma maters that will last decades beyond graduation day.
If your institution is looking for ways to fund sustainability projects, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Check out AASHE’s resource library to find a green leader in your state, and consider reaching out to them for guidance and inspiration as you work to find the right funding solution for solar at your school.